22 June 2018
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This month – Planning Inspector demolishes Braintree District Draft Local Plan
Braintree District Draft Local Plan
Earlier this year a series of hearings were held as part of the Inspector's Examination of the Braintree District Draft Local Plan Part 1.
Part 1 is a joint Local Plan with Colchester BC and Tendring DC.
The hearings were the usual affair with heavy weight developers, landowners and planning lawyers tussling over which areas of land might be allocated for development – so yes it was about future development, but it was also very much about money. Converting farmland to development land raises its value many fold.
Key to the Local Plan Part 1 are the so-called Garden Communities – although the largest of these, West Tey, is really a New Town. Currently the potential area for this New Town is shown as stretching almost from Stanway to Feering – some 7 km wide and some 5 km north-south. Huge areas of open countryside would be built on and a number of hamlets would be subsumed into it.
The Inspector sent a letter over 30 pages long to the councils which was published on 15th June. It had been rumoured that he would have criticisms, but few could have expected what is essentially a devastating demolition of Braintree DC's plans (alongside Colchester BC and Tendring DC with backing from Essex CC) for their three so-called Garden Communities strung out along the A120.
The Inspector reported that the councils had not demonstrated that the New Towns are even viable. He said they had not properly planned the sustainable transport for them (including moving Marks Tey station and how that could impact on the Sudbury branch line) and he said that it was not clear that the councils even had the best spatial strategy. He also had many more criticisms.
The Inspector also raised serious questions about the A12 and A120 routes (and funding in respect of the A120). He said that the A120 route would be "essential" for West Tey. But that begs the question as to why Essex CC announced only on 8th June that it would be recommending route D which is nowhere near West Tey and joins the A12 south of Kelvedon.
Residents in communities who were promised a route announcement on the A12 for September 2017, and a start on site in March 2020, had already been told there would be a delay. They will now be blighted for even longer – Highways England has recently added to the growing sense of planning chaos by announcing that they may have to re-consult on route options because of West Tey, but any agreement on that New Town has now been put back as the councils are going to have to fundamentally rethink their Local Plan (Part 1).
So the councils now have some hard thinking to do. The Inspector has suggested some options on how they resolve this mess and has hinted heavily that the New Towns are simply too ambitious – too large and too many of them.
There has been a big community campaign led by CAUSE http://www.cause4livingessex.com/ that resulted in thousands of objections to West Tey which were roundly ignored by the councils. Braintree DC also ignored the suggested compromise on West Tey put forward by Green District Councillor James Abbott and a few (brave) Conservative district councillors to reduce its size from 24,000 to 10,000 houses (which is still as large as Witham). The Inspector has explicitly stated in his letter that the major rethink on the Local Plan should look at alternatives including those suggested by CAUSE.
West Tey has been the "elephant in the room" when it comes to local strategic planning over recent years. It has now resulted in the Local Plan stalling, the A12 route agreement being put back and now potentially a rethink on the A120 route. Meanwhile the risk going forward is that even more countryside land will need to be found around towns and villages to make up the gap in numbers if West Tey is dropped or postponed.
The further delay to the Local Plan leaves Braintree DC vulnerable to volume developers trying to get permission on even more unallocated greenfield sites such as we have already seen at Bocking, Hatfield Peverel, Rivenhall, Silver End, Cressing and many other communities.
All in all this is nothing short of planning chaos. The councils have no-one to blame but themselves for not listening to the strong concerns put to them throughout the Local Plan process and for not being realistic about what is achievable. The Inspector praised the council's ambitions. But ambitions can only be achieved if they are realistic and attainable.
A rethink should now hopefully include reducing both the number and the size of the proposed Garden Communities to a scale that can be delivered as well as a review of the decision making process. At Braintree DC the New Towns project has been pushed through without sufficient scrutiny. A wider range of councillor views and more input from local communities should be essential to a more realistic Local Plan coming forward.
It is absolutely the case that Braintree District needs a Local Plan as soon as possible - which allocates the right amount and types of houses in the right places with the necessary supporting services.
- Just as we were expecting an announcement that the latest applications for the Rivenhall Airfield waste site/incinerator would be heard at the Essex County Council Development and Regulation Committee on 25th May, ECC planners announced they were to conduct a full review of the need for the site and would need time for responses from the applicant. That was not expected ! It now means no decision until at least late July.
Meanwhile ECC has published its annual figures on recycling and they make for fairly encouraging reading. Residual waste per household is down a bit and overall recycling rates (that is everything collected by local councils plus what is collected at Recycling Centres) has crept up to about 55%. Essex Green Party has for many years proposed a target of 70% by 2020.
The BBC once again included Green Party perspectives on recycling and waste for a piece on their Sunday Politics East programme, filmed partly at the Witham Recycling Centre. That is the fifth time this year that Essex or regional BBC has covered this issue with Green Party input – and that reflects the ongoing generally better coverage given to Green Party views locally than nationally by the BBC.
- A well attended public meeting on local policing and crime was held on 31st May at Public Hall Witham chaired by Priti Patel MP. There was a strong line-up of senior police officers and the Commissioner was also in attendance. They heard the message loud and clear from the audience that local police numbers had fallen much too far and needed to be restored; that communities wanted police stations or at least "police bases" back in their communities and that responses on the 101 telephone number and the website reporting had to be improved. The welcome news is that Braintree District is to get more police officers and that they will focus on community policing.
Braintree DC has confirmed that it is pushing ahead with major plans for redevelopment in Braintree town centre, to include a health facility, new bus interchange and housing. It was pointed out to them that whilst the plans did look to be promising, equivalent investment in Witham health facilities, whilst much talked about, remain to be seen.
We are getting steady numbers coming to Green Drinks but it would be great to see more attend. Its very informal – just a chance to meet and chat with fellow Greens in the area and come up occasionally with some good ideas !
The next Green Drinks as it happens will be on the Summer Solstice !
We meet on Thursday 19th of July at 7.30pm at Fowlers Farm (just off the A120 at Galley's Corner roundabout Braintree).
We meet every 3rd Thursday of the month.
Contact Karin for more information at
Important meetings/dates coming up
Essex County Council Full Council Tuesday 10th July 10am County Hall Chelmsford. For up to date news on ECC Full Council meetings, facebook users can see reports at https://www.facebook.com/Essex-Green-Party-350740061707505/ We now have 450 people following Essex Green Party on facebook – it is our main "noticeboard" for county-wide events and news.
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